Prior to the institution of the Chief of Staff of the Army in 1903, there was generally recognized to be a single senior-most officer in the United States Army (and its predecessor the Continental Army), even though there was not a statutory office as such. During the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the title was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. In 1783, the title was simplified to Senior Officer of the United States Army. In 1821, the title was changed to Commanding General of the United States Army. The office was often referred to by various other titles, such as "Major General Commanding the Army" or "General-in-Chief."
From 1789 until its abolition in 1903, the position of Commanding General was legally subordinate to the Secretary of War, although this was at times contested.[nb 3]
The position was abolished with the creation of the statutory Chief of Staff of the Army in 1903.